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Researchers at the University of Southampton’s WorldPop research group have used mobile phone network data to produce rich spatio-temporal population mobility metrics that have underpinned infectious disease control and disaster relief.



The importation of malaria by infected travellers poses an issue to eliminating the disease, and at the time of this research no reliable data existed that could quantify mobility at national scales.



The research team, working with the World Health Organisation and Clinton Health Access Initiatives, collaborated with mobile network operators to integrate anonymised mobile data into a disease transmission model to estimate mobility at national scales and malaria importation rates.



Research has shaped new infectious disease control and elimination strategies. In Namibia, previously limited information meant that the government classified the entire northern region as high risk for malaria. Mapping work, led by the team, integrated satellite, survey and mobile network data, and highlighted areas of much higher risk within this northern region for precise targeting. From October 2013, Namibia was able to target distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and allocation of community health workers. By 2016, cases had fallen by 98%.

Following use of mobile network data in sub-Saharan Africa, multiple major international policy and strategy documents based their recommendations around the WorldPop group’s methods. For example, the Aspiration2Action document, co-authored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations in 2015, underpinned multi-billion investment in international malaria strategies.

Research has also supported disaster relief operations. In Nepal, WorldPop, Flowminder, and Ncell (the largest mobile operator in Nepal) collaborated to respond to future earthquakes and support development objectives. After the Gorkha earthquake in April 2015, the WorldPop team produced population density maps to assist relief agencies and to quantity the earthquake’s impact on population displacement.


More information

Institution: University of Southampton 

Researchers: Professor Andrew Tatem, Dr Nick Ruktanonchai, Dr Shengjie Lai, Associate Professor Alessandro Sorichetta, Robin Wilson, Dr Elisabeth zu Erbach-Schoenberg, Dr Victor Alegana, Dr Jessica Steele, Dr Carla Pezzulo, Dr Cori Ruktanonchai, Jessica Floyd, Alessandra Carioli 


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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Mobile network data for disaster relief and infectious disease control​. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>